By Tripti Mukherjee, a budding sustainable living enthusiast and writer. Follow her work at @Simplishliving_since1996 (Instagram account)

Plastic free July is a global annual movement which encourages millions of people to take up the challenge to stop using single use plastic and also calls for attention to the increased amount of plastic waste disposed all around the world- the plastic you get to carry your fruits and vegetables, the plastic bags you use to transport your shopping home, the soft drink bottles, the sanitary napkins wrapped in plastic and many more. When you look around stores and even the items in your home, you’ll find single use plastic is seemingly limitless.

So what do you do? How do you go plastic free without having to buy essentials from overpriced organic stores? How do you say a straightforward ‘no’ to the person packing your meat in layers of plastic bag? Is there any other way to consume all those junk food without the guilt of producing tonnes of multi-layered plastic?

Living a 100% plastic free life is a myth. Another myth that is setting unrealistic standards is “Plastic free living means being able to fit all your plastic waste for a year into a mason jar”. Living a zero waste lifestyle can be different for different people. For some it could be remembering to take re-usable shopping bags, battling kid’s incessant demand for plastic wrapped sweets or choosing not to buy anything which is heavily packaged with plastic. Hence the main idea of this movement is to let you figure out how you can switch to more sustainable products at your own pace and take up a challenge based on what works for you.

“Living a 100% plastic free life is a myth. Another myth that is setting unrealistic standards is “Plastic free living means being able to fit all your plastic waste for a year into a mason jar”

Taking small steps

Let’s begin with some basic items that form a part of our everyday self-care routine such as toothbrush, tooth paste, skin and hair care product. The quantum of waste generated by families per year just from self care and beauty products is mind boggling. If we use just one unit each of shampoo, cream, soap and toothpaste every month, we would have discarded close to 500 pieces in 10 years. So what’s the solution? Three things we can do to be a part of the solution:

  • Try out bamboo brushes or brushes with a reusable handle- and dispose them off correctly!
  • Buy skin and hair care products from small enterprises which promote sustainable packaging or make self care products at home using fun DIY tutorials. Making your own hair and skin care products and toothpaste at home is a great option to not just reduce waste but save money that you spend on so called ‘organic products’ that comes in plastic packaging.
  • Write to your favourite company and ask them to develop plastic free options.

Similarly single use plastic bottles are another source of huge plastic waste in our landfills. Here’s a ‘not-so-fun’ fact: Humans buy about 1,000,000 plastic bottles per minute in total. Only about 23% of plastic bottles are recycled. Beverage companies have pledged to use more recycled bottles in manufacturing, a goal that aims to reduce the production of new resin and boosts recycling numbers by adding value to bottle recovery. Three things we can do to be part of the solution are:

  • Carry a re-usable bottle
  • Choose aluminium cans over plastic when possible
  • Recycle all plastic bottles

The next time you order a vanilla latte to go, consider this: We use an estimated 16 billion disposable coffee cups each year. The single-use cups (along with lids, sleeves and stir sticks) are often made with hard-to-recycle materials like Styrofoam, polyethylene or polypropylene that are sent straight to the landfill. One could say that switching to paper coffee cups can be a part of the solution. Paper cups might seem like a better option but, on its own, paper cannot hold liquid so baristas pour coffee into cups lined with polyethylene, a plastic that functions as a moisture barrier. The lining must be separated from the cup before the paper portion can be recycled; the process is both complex and expensive so the cups are routed to landfills or incinerators for final disposal. The best option to avoid creating waste is buying coffee in a flask or re-usable glass bottle.

Cooking at home and carrying our lunch to work is another way to reduce waste from ordering food online or buying packaged food. Carrying our own cloth bags while buying vegetables from local market will not just prevent from buying vegetables wrapped in plastics at the supermarket but also support local farmers.

Sanitary waste disposal is a huge problem that needs to be tackled on an urgent basis. Every month, around 353 million women and adolescent girls across India use sanitary products and generate menstrual waste, and this number is growing with each passing day. So, what’s the fuss? The problem lies in the disposal of sanitary waste. Believe it or not, a single woman can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through her menstruating years alone. Plastic free period is another step that all menstruators can take as a challenge this month.  There are various options available if one wants to go plastic free during their menstrual cycle- there are menstrual cups that lasts for up to 10 years and comes in various sizes to suit different body types. Another great option is re-usable cloth pads that can last for upto 3 years if taken care of. Cloth pads are not only economical but also good for a menstruators health. They come in vibrant colours and various shapes and sizes.

“A single woman can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through her menstruating years alone”

Covid 19’s cost to the environment

Wearing a face mask has rightly become the new normal for many, as we try to protect ourselves and others from covid19 . But the rise in single-use masks and disposable gloves around the world has also come with a huge environmental cost. Researchers from University College London estimate that if every person in the UK used one single-use mask each day for a year, that would create 66,000 tonnes of plastic waste alone. Single-use masks are typically made from polypropylene, a fossil fuel-derived plastic that can take hundreds of years to break down. Meanwhile, they also shed tiny harmful micro plastics into our waterways, which are then consumed by unsuspecting fish (and then us, when we eat seafood). And while disposable gloves made out of latex are biodegradable, ones made out of nitrile and vinyl are not.

Switch to reusable options instead

According to experts, reusable cloth masks—which should be washed at 60C to kill any virus particles—are just as effective when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in non-medical settings. So if we are not working in the healthcare sector or caring for Covid patients or are not above the age of 60 then switching to cloth masks is a great way to reduce plastic waste from disposable masks.

Another very good way to reduce waste especially plastic waste is to make a list of things who want to buy or simply adding those items online on your cart, just let it stay for some time and comeback and see if you really want to buy it. The economy runs on the demand of consumers so if you stop demanding food and other materials that add to plastic waste then together we can create huge changes towards the vision of plastic free planet as consumers.

Plastic Free July is motivating people to work together in reducing waste especially single use plastic

Creating awareness is a very important part of this movement. Now with social media it’s much easier to influence people, so posting pictures and videos of new sustainable habits can create awareness among people and also motivate them to try out ways that are suitable for them in leading a more sustainable life. There are several well-known environmental activists and also people who are working towards a sustainable lifestyle who share their experiences on social media and its helpful for so many other people to watch different ways of switching to eco-friendly alternatives and this plastic free July motivates people to try making changes for short periods and carry them on in future. Though the campaign focuses on July but its main aim is to have an impact year round.

There are worldwide leaders who now promote simple living and slow living lifestyle, to reduce consumption and take time to decide if you really want something. Being close to nature, keeping things simple, supporting local artisans and local farmers are always advisable as our planet does not need a few people doing zero waste or quitting plastic usage perfectly but it requires millions of people doing it imperfectly. Though people all over the world are now increasingly concerned about the impact of  humanity on nature and are trying to create clean land , ocean, streets and communities but without proper awareness and motivation and without efforts being made by each and every human it’s difficult to bring changes.

Anahat For Change Foundation

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